An exclusive interview with Otara Gunewardene

20 June 2018 11:27 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Otara Gunewardene had opportunities to share her experience as an entrepreneur, businesswoman and advocateat three different world forums over the past few months. Here she speaks about what it was and how it felt to be part of a global initiative.

Q: You were invited to several international forums recently where you had an opportunity to represent Sri Lanka and speak in knowledge sharing panels. What were these forums?

A: Yes, there were three that took place recently. The Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) was held in Hyderabad, India under the theme ‘Women First, Prosperity for All’. There were over 1500 global entrepreneurs and investors who gathered and it was indeed a privilege to be a part of it. It was hosted by the United States of America and the Republic of India. Therefore the forum was inaugurated by India’s Prime Minister HE Narendra Modi and the US delegation was led by Ivanka Trump. 

Following that I got an opportunity to speak at the Inaugural Women’s Forum ‘The Power of Half a Billion’, which was jointly presented by Economic Times and Facebook. This was in Mumbai and had around 50 international speakers and over 500 participants.

The other invitation was from the Ladies Study Group for their conference, ‘Shakti Beyond Borders’. It was a platform to celebrate success stories of women from the 6 SAARC countrieswho have made significant contributions to their country in different fields. 

Overall, the 3 forums were key to the South Asian region as they created a platform for like-minded advocates to come together, discuss, debate and lead innovative initiatives in their focused areas. 

Q: How did it feel to be part of these international forums?

A: It was a privilege to be at these events, especially amidstentrepreneurs who have made their global mark at the GES. It was also a pleasure to represent Sri Lanka together with entrepreneur Merrill J. Fernando who also joined the event. The knowledge and experience that was shared in all these forums led to a wider understanding of the kind of opportunities and challenges we have, some are common and others are unique to each country. However, the outlining fact was that change is happening and a lot of focus is being given to encourage more women entrepreneurs across the world.

Q: What was your contribution at each of these events?

A: At the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, I was part of the discussion named ‘Grassroots Grow: Women in emerging Markets’, in which we spoke about how each one of us successfully secured new opportunities in emerging markets, the cultural opportunities and challenges faced by  entrepreneurs who are scaling businesses in South Asia. The overall summit was focused on empowering innovators, especially women, to take their ideas to the next level.

The Economic Times Women’s Forum focused on over 12 areas such as gender diversity, enhancing women’s participation in the workforce, breaking the proverbial glass ceiling, women in sports, start-ups, civic society and performing arts. As a result, it was a gathering of women with achievements in different areas which included Olympic medalists, Heads of Start-ups, Bollywood directors and combat pilots. The panel I spoke in was named ‘Neighbors Beating Gender Bias’ and on the panel were Sarah Ali from Bangladesh who is the Managing Director of Bitopi Advertising Limited, and FawziaKoofi – Afghan politician and women’s rights activist. It was moderated by SagarikaGhose, Consulting Editor of the Times of India.

At‘Shakti Beyond Borders’the participants highlighted their experiences and emphasized the fact that the most important thing for women across generations and borders is to stand by each other and help each grow as individuals and professionals. The key focus area was how economic empowerment of more women can build economies, making countries stronger.

Q: Can you share a few memorable moments you had, and key figures you met?

A: The GES was one of the biggest summits I have attended. The fact that it was hosted by the governments of India and the USA meant that we were able to meet the Prime Minister of India himself, HE Narendra Modi. In addition, it was a privilege to meet powerful women like Cherie Blair and Chanda Kochhar – CEO of ICICI Bank and manysuccessful entrepreneurs and business leaders. A few of us were invited for a special dinner with the Prime Minister and Ivanka Trump at the Taj Falaknuma Palace, which was a very special experience. 

At the ET Women’s Forum, I had the opportunity to meet women such as Andrea Jung – the longest tenure female Fortune 500 CEO. These people continue to inspire more and more women to believe in their strengths, and encourage others to believe in their dreams. 

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